The “Spectrality” of Phytoplankton in John Wedgewood Clarke’s Landfill

In Landfill, poet John Wedgewood Clarke takes the reader on walks along the trekking paths of some of England’s most outstanding areas of natural beauty. One such area is the Greensand Way connecting Surrey and Kent. Clarke, choice picks this location owing to a property of its geological composition: it is made of chalk.

Landscapes formed from chalk, are landscapes composed of coccolith biomicrite, a limestone formed of fossil debris from the cretaceous period. The “bio” refers to the microscopic fossilized phytoplankton called coccolithopores; the “micrite” is a calcium carbonate mud, gluing the fossilized phytoplankton into a material assemblage. When the phytoplankton died, the microscopic calcium carbonate plates that compose their shells sank to the ocean floor to amalgamate into a calcium cement-porridge.  They are the compositional materials. As a result of this our landscapes are an assemblage of dead bodies, or what Tim Morton calls specters. The coccolith we might think of as the spectral aspect of the phytoplankton.

In Humankind Morton explains that ““Specter” could mean “apparition,” but it could also mean “horrifying object,” or it could mean “illusion,” or it could mean “the shadow of a thing.”  (Morton: Humankind, 54-55). The shadowy apparition of our landscape is the shadowy process of the ocean ecosystem which emerged around 146 million years ago. Our landscapes are haunted by the unseen aggregations of massive amounts of death. But it is a productive death, as productive as the life.

The same spectral quality is not so productive in our own case. Or it is, but the spectrality is more disturbing: our rubbish is the material formed to produce a sort of landscape. These landscapes have an undetermined future: until we can be sure the methane doesn’t explode, the land will remain usable only for dumping rubbish. Moreover, rubbish demands ever increasing amounts of energy as a provisionary requirement in order for us to continue consuming. There is this constantly vicious, viscous circle: the ourobouros with its mouth glued to its tail.

This isn’t the only provision that phytoplankton provide, they also photosynthesize, and are therefore a key component in the apparatus that regulates a breathable earth. These may have been one of the most rudimentary forms of life that gave a jolt to the production of oxygen [see Lane, Nick. Oxygen: The Molecule that Made the World. Oxford UP, 2002.] In addition, they remain the foundation of a food chain, without them ocean ecosystems would collapse. In short, phytoplankton give their entire being to the emergence of a livable world of exponential complexities, sustain it too, & all without considering it in any apperceptive mode. They have done so for an incredible span of time. All phytoplankton does is propagate itself. They are functional, meaningful components for the regulation of life, without a thought to anything otherwise.

In opposition, we fill landfills with effluvia of ourselves. But not our physical bodies, they fill sacred ground for the convenience of our remembrance. We fill landfills with extensions of ourselves, identifying factors we grew bored of; the leftovers from eating too much; our superfluous snacking habits, their identifying factors smeared into each other; the snipped corners of packaging. We fill the landfill with our n + 1: the extension of ourselves that propagates the capitalist system under which we groan, saturated in what Tristan Garcia calls “an epidemic of things.” (Garcia: Form and Object, 1).

Clarke in drawing the uncanny alignment of two different ways of forming landscapes, makes the anthropic reveal: we are the geological force. Well some of us. The we is applicable to a narrow bandwidth of humanity.

Phytoplankton are a geological force too, or rather a component utilized in a coexistence of things that perturb each other to produce stable conditions for life; but what is the difference? For all their perturbations & sacrifice, vast complexities, not dissimilar in degree, are able to flourish into breathtaking consequence because of phytoplankton’s existence.

Confronted with such a thing—a thing that is part of an ecosystem—how are we to interpret our behavior as the wasteful, polluting, bull-headed, guns blazing, piston-revving, all-consuming, boxed & packaged correlational-nightmare?

Take note of phytoplankton’s brute efficiency. It is staggering. There is no waste. Every aspect of its being is toward some benefit-to something else: oxygen, atmosphere, food source, landscape.

Whereas Human is: breather, polluter, user-&-abuser, self-obsessed, destroyer, potentiality-obsessed, myopic. We benefit ourselves mostly.

We can make the argument that some good eggs exist among us, selfless & futural. Of course. But as a species we have forgotten our ecological position: how to be a regulatory principle rather than an irregular expression of irony. How ironic we are: to lust for life so vehemently.  

Clarke’s insight then, urges us toward a consideration of the impact of phytoplankton & ourselves-as-species. The phytoplankton is a key vehicle in an ecosystem & even in their spectral state they provide landscapes on which we enjoy leisurely walks. We pollute & use & degrade. We too are part of an ecosystem, we infiltrate from the top all the way down. That is the rub.  

The term Anthropocene is embedding itself for what may be the long term discussions of climate forecasters, media opinion-spreaders, academics & public debaters. While the Anthropocene is a problematic term in that it attributes blame to all people when a small percentage have (& are) actually caused our peril. It does have the benefit of causing those of us among who is to blame, to infiltrate from within & explain: “look what we have done…yes! us.”

This is the dialogue that Clarke’s Landfill enters into. It shows us the goings on of immense, immanent processes that have the potential to perturb one another. In short, he shows how consumer affluence directly affects ecosystems. This is tacit in the choice of content in Landfill. We are not shown the landfill in isolation, but in contrast to other landscapes and aggregates of objects, which we find in the form of the life cycles of lugworms on the banks of the Humber river, & their precarious livelihood balanced on the tip of a pH level of 8:

Those white splats on the beach as if a flock                    
of herring-gulls had taken off—lugworm sperm!  

As the tide washes over the sand,
the sea’s higher pH activates the sperm  

which the female smells and pumps down
into her burrow, bathing her eggs.  

This happens on two days in winter each year.
There are four minutes to achieve fertilization.  

If the sea’s pH drops below eight the love songs
of worms over millions of years are silenced,  

the green-gold explosion of plover
at Reads Island an immeasurable blank—     (Clarke: Landfill, 59)       

In no uncertain terms Clarke is positioning us inside a fragility pushed to its limits. The volta jettisoning the reader with an em dash into a scenario of extinction. Consumption encroaches on these limits more and more. Our failure to react threatens to make a reality of the scenario: “This city would be all at sea without them.” (Ibid, 64)

The lugworm, like the phytoplankton, is efficient in its habit. Not only is its life cycle interdependent with the existence of “the city”, but also a much larger ecosystem of species. We must recognize that the most ostensibly ineffective creature or thing contains potentials that are in excess of our expectation.

Works Cited

Clarke, John Wedgewood. Landfill. Valley Press, 2017.

Morton, Tim. Humankind: Solidarity with Nonhuman Peoples. Verso, 2017.

Garcia, Tristan. Form and Object: A Treatise on Things. Translated by Mark Allan Ohm and Jon Cogburn, Edingburgh UP, 2014.

Lane, Nick. Oxygen: The Molecule that Made the World. Oxford UP, 2002.

An Introduction to Levi R. Bryant’s Virtual Proper Being

In The Democracy of Objects Levi R. Bryant explains that

…the substantiality of objects is not a bare substratum, but rather an absolutely individual system or organization of powers. Powers are the capacities of an object or what it can do. The powers of an object are never something that is directly manifested in the world. And if this is so, then this is because the qualities of an object are only ever local manifestations of the object’s power. That is, the domain of power possessed by an object is always greater than any local manifestation or actualization of an object. (Bryant: The Democracy of Objects, 89)

What Bryant means is that objects are not merely composed of a substratum such as the atom, molecule etc—what science discovers as a pre-formatted, font of sophisticated processes from which stuff emerges—but in addition, that there is some capacity aside from this, an inherent potential of objects to be unpredictable.

It is their unpredictability that enables their perturbation of other objects. Bryant calls this virtual proper being. Virtual proper being is this shadowy residence of volcanic potential. To produce a “local manifestation”, an object with qualities, which can be subject to change, an object must be inexhaustible. A glass jar becomes dislodged in the cupboard & when you open the cupboard it falls out with a crash of glass & jam. We forget the viscous properties, we don’t daily experience jammy shards of glass.

We adapt, no one is saying we can’t or don’t, but it is an inconvenience because of the unexpectedness. The objects in the cupboard became dislodged somehow…you think nothing of what could have, before the event of the jam jar falling, been the agentic activity that could have caused such a thing to happen. It did though & it does. Objects surprise us. They have inexhaustible tendencies, which confound us sometimes. We ourselves as objects prove this virtual proper being: we don’t even know ourselves. We don’t know ourselves because while we certainly factor in a great deal of epistemic conditioning, psychology, culture & what not, we don’t factor in the nonhuman agencies which enable us to be res cogitans: bacteria, neurons, cells, DNA, molecules, oxygen & more besides.

We are a host to parasites in some sense. In any other form we might use bleach against them, or prevent them accessing us via a mask. But they are inside us, they are us. This is to realize the unexpected. That there are things that decide me outside the periphery of my decision-making faculties. I am facilitated in my being by beings so unlike me they astound me with what Bryant calls “volcanic powers”.

…I refer to the virtual proper being of substance as consisting of endo-relations, an endo-structure, or an endo-composition. The point is not that all substances are spatial […] but rather that multiplicity allows us to think individual substance in a purely immanent fashion detached from any sort of global embedding space or set of exo-relations. While substances can and do enter into relations with other substances, their being qua substance is not constituted by these exo-relations. Exo-relations often play a crucial role in the qualities a substance comes to embody at the level of local manifestations, but the being of substance in its substantiality is something other than these exo-relations.” (Bryant, 107).

The endo-relations of an object are its substrata: that which it is fundamentally composed of. This is not disturbed by exo-relations if there is no cause. A red book remains a book liable to change colour but not its form. If it is pulped it is only a pulped book so long as we know its original form. It remains what it was made from. Pulped paper is pulped paper. A red book is a red book. The exo-relation enables change to its qualities: we can cover the book, we can colour it differently, we can write inside it. But its endo-relations are fixed: it is fundamentally something that it is not. & yet there it is, white paper, shimmery cover. These are its local manifestations. How many different encounters it can have with other objects, how they can affect it, is precisely what OOO means when it talks about radical withdrawnness, or virtual proper being.

Objects then are not exhausted by our uses for them. Rust gathering around an aerosol can in a forest somewhere is rusting fine without us. The mycorrhizal networks of forests plow on regardless of us. What the withdrawnness of objects informs us about everything, is that there are unique relationships between things we never think about. This is good. It means we have plenty to pay attention to, or not. The not-I going on without us is regulating our capacity to not pay attention to it. Those of us who do exist in a rich ecology, where things surprise, wonderfully, exaggeratedly so, making us appreciate that our world is composed of jostling, affective objects vying for attention. This is a good thing.

Dimethyltryptamine

Recently I was provided the opportunity to smoke DMT, one of the most confounding & intense experiences of my life. It is difficult to reconcile the out of body, death-like experience with the simplicity of this ubiquitous compound, found in mammal brains & numerous plants, including acacia. I felt death. On coming out of the “rush” (lasting about 4 minutes) I exploded out into the world, breathing rapidly, feeling as if I had been reborn. The expansive insight & ameliorating aftereffects of the dense, short-lived trip, are very affective. I wept for the fragility of life, I also laughed at the magnitude of life’s beauty & rareness.

I have never written a poem about a drug experience, but this was a different kettle of fish. What the experience confirmed, what I asked the drug to confirm for me, in fact, more accurately to show me, was symbiosis directly. It produced this for me in the form of a dimension formed from a breathing, intelligent, very conscious geometry. A geometry made of the visual data of animals, insects & maybe something else beside. I entered this world of geometry. When I touched the physics of this world directly, it produced fractals of more geometry, which communicated something through the rapidly morphing shapes my geometrically transmogrified (finger?) ability to touch directly, produced. It was like touching the withdrawn qualities phenomenology tells us exist on the dark side of the perceptible world. I was inside the withdrawness of objects. How would I explain to Graham Harman that we can access the thing directly? We live symbiotically, we must—as I keep hammering home—think ecologically. DMT is an ecological experience. We are ecological beings.


Dimethyltryptamine
 
the
smallest hand
follows deep in-breaths
staggering      breath-in aggregate.
whoever breathed this way without a chest?
inexplicably everything. everything inexplicably...
     & we chase our way around each others’ hearts. strangely
formatting scope. the whole sphere breathing out a metaphor. a
withdrawn impact. speaking objects into existence to prod fixatedly
at their amorphous world-defyning properties. co-lapse in the prepuce
:priapus being. diddowill you gnothis. treegore your inner resource: get paly
with plant and fauna. they own the world. they are world. the earth is a plant.
I-earth. I-plant. I-metaphor. I-object. I-thing. I-O. I-do. I-see. I-taste. I
exsponge wet lips cradled in the grammarred weight of historic molecules.
do you gyre at yourself. you diddowill. you must end. you are ending.
I will end so many times & yet the end is only a sur-prise of a depth
we fail to locate in the dawnsing-nightmare numeralled-darkness.
you trip on para-sites parade-eyes in the seat of your summons.
ship stalled winds in the sales waves osmanthus panic-calls
flush flesh & flash in the geometry that is & does
cross thresholds blending boundaries & dawn
splitting & marring the glue of the dark.
what reasons for persons gives
persons to reason
: O

Thoughts on Self-Interest Ecology

This week I have been reading a not-so well-known book of philosophy by the British philosopher Derek Parfit called Reasons and Persons. Parfit is flagged up in Tim Morton’s Hyperobjects, in which Morton comments on Parfit’s challenging of ‘long-held prejudices about utility and ethics from within utilitarianism itself.’ that, ‘Parfit showed that no self-interest ethical theory, no matter how modified, can succeed against such dilemmas.’ (Hyperobjects, p. 122) What Parfit illustrates is that Self-Interest theories actually reveal that what we should be self-interested in is the future, because this breeds a healthy anticipation of ourselves as a continuing presence. Parfit explains:

Unless we, or some global disaster, destroy the human race, there will be people living later who do not now exist. These are future people. Science has given to our generation great ability both to affect these people, and to predict these effects…Two kinds of effect raise puzzling questions. We can affect the identities of future people, or who the people are who will later live. And we can affect the number of future people. These effects give us different kinds of choice. (Parfitt, Reasons & Persons, p. 355)

Why Morton picks out Parfit for interrogation, is that Parfit is thinking in terms of hyperobjects (a term Parfit would not have known). The things dogging us are so massive in spatiotemporal scale that we are unprepared for the repercussions these massive objects will trigger. The hyperobject is an assemblage of events & things. We may parse Parfit’s own list of ‘pollution, congestion, depletion, inflation, unemployment, a recession, over-fishing, over-farming, soil-erosion, famine, and overpopulation’ for hyperobjects. In fact it would be time better spent to say that this list could come under a single heading of ecological.

I would say that a large part of our energies should be toward thinking ecologically so as to become what Morton calls ‘ecological-being.’ Expanding on the consideration of ‘future people’ Parfit explains:

In some cases we can predict that some act either may or will be against the interests of future people. This can be true when we are making a Same People Choice. In such a case, whatever we choose, all and only the same people will ever live. Some of these people will be future people. Since these people will exist whatever we choose, we can either harm or benefit these people in a quite straightforward way…Suppose that I leave some broken glass in the undergrowth of a wood. A hundred years later this glass wounds a child. My act harms this child. If I had safely buried the glass, this child would have walked through the wood unharmed. Does it make a moral difference that the child whom I harm does not now exist?’  (Parfitt, Reasons & Persons, p. 356-357)

We can determine that if we are to think ecologically, we have to cross the threshold of our own existence & encroach on the existence of a future person. This requires the difficult application of impartiality. Something we prove again & again, we are not all that deft at. Our actions should not be liable to such affective potentials, but impartiality is difficult when confronted with a non-identity, an identity that will exist in a radically different contexture to that of our current consumerist culture. We can, as Mark Fisher has explained, imagine the end of the world in a more rendered fashion than the end of capitalism.

Parfit’s insight aligns & informs with ecological thinking. We could alter the example to that of what we do whenever we produce a destructive material. Parfitt’s insight here provides a reasoning for thinking ecologically, instantiating the repercussions of one generation’s affectivity over another. What it simultaneously explains is why we do behave in a manner that affects future peoples: we know we can never be directly blamed when the actions of now manifest into problems later. This is the crux of the problem.

The Non-Identity Problem posited by Parfitt indicates that considering the rights & best scenario for future generations is problematic precisely because those future people have no identity. We can only conceive of them as being formed out of the fundamental differences we effect now. This is a consequence of trying to establish better choices now so as to effectively alter predicted trajectories that will become a future ‘worth living’. Despite the speculation we can make predictions to avert a future in which these future people least benefit from the re-percussive effects of our speculations. The problem cannot be directly seen, the nature of the future forbids this. However, out of predictive thinking (ecologically) we can be convinced to make decisions that will make the future better. We cannot begin to do this unless we can convince ourselves that spatiotemporal scales are integral to being able to make convincing predictions to benefit the future. The benefits must be toward a better world, which will therefore benefit the generation living in that world.

Self-Interest must be oriented to persuasive predictions of how a future might look. We currently, largely exist in the spatiotemporal scale of our biological clock. As a largely Humanist culture, we do this because it is ideally aligned with our societies habit of planned obsolescence. We don’t have that long here, so buy buy buy to experience as many products as possible. This is choking us. A good Self-Interest theory would not think like this, because the Self-Interest would be toward the preservation of a standard of existence worth living in the future; this of course makes sense if you want to reproduce & the nurturing of a child is futile if their is already no prospective future to live into. There is no good reason to assume that getting what we want is a rational mode of being. If we can sacrifice land to this purpose (landfills, factories, the decimation of wildlife & forest) then surely we can sacrifice our right to objects with a transient value.

If we begin to see more potently the spatiotemporal scales of these objects we claim a right to, we begin to recognize that it is precisely their histories & futures, which are proving deleterious to a standard of living in a murky future. A plastic object has travelled out of deep time, some 40 million years to form into oil. The speck of time this is useful to us pales in comparison. So too its future: one that will greet generations for thousands of years to come. Would you even recognize a person in a thousand years?

These thoughts are all culminating as I write my dissertation on the poet John Wedgewood Clarke. His book of poems Landfill for me instantiates the hyperobject. I am writing a chapter on spatiotemporal scales necessary to thinking ecologically so as to be ecological beings. It is interesting & challenging, if only because I am torn from the safe distances my biological clock establishes. However, I believe that it is this improvidence hacked into our thinking through our diurnal conditioning, which is a hurdle to us reckoning with now to affect much-much-later.

In the comments it would be interesting to know if people think ecologically? Do you think current protests & the Covid-19 pandemic are ecological problems? I look forward to your insights.

between noisescapesilence

Haven’t written a poem for a while, but this has emerged in the last few weeks. Very much a sensory response manifesting out of my studies into my actual encounters & affiliation with a world of objects, object-sound, object-smell, object-taste.


between noisescapesilence
 
the extractor fan           in the bathroom
  is too loud     its             loudness has be-
    come an agentic                property,  I cannot see it otherwise than
      emerging out                       of brokenness. hearing:seeing.
        it has affected a                     trajectory            revealed a gap
          between it                                & a noisescape of disrepair.
            something has                              taken       a turn
              a hand played                             in anticipation.
                this is volume                          territory. the sound
              has surpassed                        all expectation.
            a broke-drone                       freakishly ornate
          in flakes of                          human skin
       & breath                             & germ.          cracking its knuckles
    as if to read                         the atmosphere
 of grey rooms:                 agencyactormeshworkfreak

Bodies

Another poem written after I returned from Korea. This poem is an attempt to realize poetically, Tim Morton’s replacement term for ‘nature’, the symbiotic real. Morton’s reasons for abandoning the word nature & the (capital N) baggage with it, is owing to the erroneous perception that nature is somewhere, or some state, we need to get back to. For Morton this has never been an opportunity because we are always already in & of nature. You never have nor will you ever escape the symbiotic real, because nature is symbiosis. DNA requires RNA. The very stuff that is the algorithmic life-start in a symbiotic relationship. Take away RNA, DNA doesn’t get the message. Nothing works alone. Everything is reliant on something else.

What doesn’t have agency? That is why there is no nature. What we do by thinking a nature outside of us, is establish a series of over-theres. An over-there to dump rubbish so we can consume & feel clean; an over-there for this, for that. But doing something in one place has spillage effects. The rubbish you send to the sacrificial landfill site—land sacrificed to be poisoned—grows into a terraforming or annexing & the chemical leachate from it indicates the over-there isn’t as contained as we think, or rather hope.

Methane gas musters & disperses; the land is packed with decades of consumerism, objects that will be discovered in the geological strata for centuries to come. Each object has a history, had a value that in the blink of an eye (in geological time) is reduced to waste. The plastic we throw took millions of years to become what we throw away. But its life doesn’t stop at our valuation & production of it. No. It then decomposes for hundreds of years. If we could ask a piece of plastic what it desires most, it would probably ask to die.

To be ecological thinkers we must collapse this attitude to thinking nature is something to return to, when nature is the tips of your fingers, the breath, the blood, the face, other faces, faeces, other arms, nonhuman limbs, nonhumans full stop, it is concrete & electrical cabling, steel, plastic (liquid dinosaurs & plant & tree & animal), language, code, pencils, pens, sex toys, newspapers. In short, nature is there when you wake in your home, walk to the shops, walk to a forest (curated by man largely). If you look at a farm & think nature…think again. That agricultural land is no more Nature (I capitalize it to show nature in the traditional definition we commonly assume) than your high street, a warehouse or an anthill. When everything is enmeshed symbiotically an entirely radical thing happens: we think ecologically. Ecology is about relationships shared in a space: man & pigeon, pigeon & lichen, lichen & rain, rain & stone, stone & rubbish, rubbish & pigeon: all are bodies. Now, poem-body.

Bodies
 
The body-protean, an exiled casserole
of organisms, without which we have nothing close
to history. A bloating pocket where a blast
of life informs the cell, & cells conform to life.
The body micro-managed by a filigree
of vital matter sliced like rump-burls
off suffering birch, craft into a stiff bowl
to fill with feed, & nurse the stricken tree.
The aspect ratio of the golden hour
kneading a little dryness in the skin of leaves;
whose rations nourish, who commands
with a longevity, keeping the growth’s demand.
 
This uniformity, offerings of belly & bit
marching loose to twangs of string
in an inviting, unseen land of waves.
The nettled summer, ants the bring
that rigs the bone with this enduring love.
Thus the sponge sops up the wet;
wind clusters in the curtains, aching for an eave. 
Dropped in a current, the siphoned spark lobes
the brain, motions the muscled bone with grab.
The sagittal-arête time romped along
until the biped stood outside the cave
& learned to steal in geometry’s hive.  
 
Though we go templed in the nexus
of the lung & heart, we do not go astray, sick
& sorry. The agriculture underneath the flesh
is just as much an alien as it is a me.
I’d like to know the spark, the soma & the bee. 
A world is hemmed in by a gassy peel.
People take notes on how a little bird glues
twigs to twigs with phlegm & beak;
how ants haul foraged matter to a burrow.
Will we ever be big enough to fill our shoes?
The world outside tomorrow’s window
is an imagining we rehearse. 

Meaninglessness

I think this is one of only a handful of poems I have written since moving to Exeter, to study. Somewhat influenced by Camus, his persuasive Absurdism, which to me has always been a methodology to encourage an acceptance of life as ultimately meaningless; this isn’t something to despair over. It is only meaningless in regards to a sense of teleological purpose. In other words, with the death of God, the spoiler alert is that the cosmos is in free fall of a sort, but that means it falls of its own accord, there is no umbrella parliament of destiny, or influence from omnipotence. There isn’t even a point to being here. So that the old defeating gesture of “what’s the point” really doesn’t have any point to it. Sort of. Meaning exists, but it is found through the peristaltic action-process of absurdism. Put simply, we must digest the absurd, because a meaningless cosmos is absurd. ,

Cosmos comes from the Greek kosmos meaning to ‘arrange’, or ‘order’, but it also has affinities with ‘cosmetic’, which means to ‘beautify’ & even ‘contemplate’. Therefore, the hostile cosmos, is actually something we are a part of & influence, even in a self-reflective mode of choosing to find meaning in meaninglessness. You can’t not be here if you are here & even when you leave life you remain as long as someone remembers you. After that, well you have nothing of a sort, but so what. Unless you squandered your life worrying about meaninglessness (& even if you did) you can’t escape the meaning of having just being here. We take existence for granted, as if it something easily produced, in cosmic abundance. It really isn’t. Stop for a second & think to yourselves how likely a chair is. Think about everything it took for nature, the cosmos to produce a being that could design & produce a chair. That is meaning. Camus connects purpose to acceptance of uncertainty, which provides us with a certainty: that we can cope with life, & enjoy it for the sheer unlikeliness of it, love it for its uncertainty.

Meaninglessness
 
Out in the sticks, you can hear leaf-drop,
the stink of cells, the footsteps of neurons.
Below the window,
                                New Bridge Street,
the noise of snarling traffic, light aircraft,
the sinewy peal of sirens, pell-mell
of concentric, criss-cross-snippets of people-talk,
church bell tintinnabulation
—all welcome in my ears; telling world
in its negotiation with itself. 
 
The ugly beauty of us,
I shamelessly love
: reading a thermometer
is not like dithering.
 
Stars dim, most nights the close light lamping the street
curtains the stars entirely—still, their locomotion
—stranded in the dark periphery, elasticated
—still, they locomote here, for nobody to see.
When the feet that we put wrong culminate
they’ll batter down the dark,
to anoint our bleached skulls with elder shine.
Ourselves, for what we commit to
: a python swallowing sheep.

Human Flourishing

The title is misleading, sarcastic. This poem is a response to a talk by some guy called Alex Epstein, who started something called The Human Flourishing Project. Alex believes nonrenewable energy sources are the reason for human flourishing. The rise in population (which he seems to think good because that means humanity is flourishing), health, leisure, convenience, etcetera. In short, Alex thinks we should use more of them. He has evidence. Woah! Really Alex?

I have made Alex seem very stupid, however, the most worrying part of Alex’s existence is that he isn’t stupid. He does not speak emphatically, he is measured, diplomatic & seems to make a cogent point. I find this more difficult to digest than a ranting dinosaur like Trump. You know whether you hate or love a man like Trump, he’s obvious is so many ways. Men like Alex worry me in the same way men like Larry Page concern me. Anyway, I got a poem out of Alex. Beware the sheep in wolf’s clothing.

Human Flourishing
 
Too…such goodness from the bindweed
fumes of amor fati, flourishing in/exhaled.
No one to say to, nor with, & yet
we cannot not say, nor write
with no place to write in, or about.
This will happen at the end of time
with only silence for unnerving amity.
 
Mobile boys mark stuttered patterns
in the sound-lines of air. They inherit
a neural mastery over the insignificant.
The vital, new immortals condense
& swarm biblically; seize; climb
immortal landfills growing wild as they grow tame
under motile digits alive with current.
 
The world melts in a dance of dye.
The pollen snouted bee in lazy meadows,
hysterical verbiage turns dead matters
quick… ‘Quickly, hear the woodland sigh.’
Clusters of midges in a hug of light,
& bracken fronds, their bitter
scent wafting on winded, angry ratios.
 
Blind-catharsis, stamping barcodes
on the underside of leaves, on animal noise.
Our most unlovely heavens scapegoated
for glass & steel & smoke. These antsy, twitchy noses.
Who loves their hunch that promise
falls in code, & futures the restless destiny
of light-fingered, binary patterns?
 
Once-and-for-all, the perfect virtual
   
               dive unmatched
 
                             in its proliferating go.
 
 

Motif Lately

This is a motifational poem. The motif motifates the writer, spurring associations to render the poem into a unity, if only a superficial, galvanizing unity. But where would anything be without either motifation or superficilaity? Nature made man & man makes superficial motifations. It’s endless.

The motif for me is occasioned by a form of activity reactive to anything, funded motifationally by the capacity to draw congruous & incongruous subject matter into abstract (or otherwise) assemblages.

I suppose this is merely another explanation of a poem. But it is mine. & it has its own terminology.

I have punned mercilessly. Forgive me.

Motif Lately
 
The bloated bleating, cross-wired metonym.
A chasm, chiasmus;—this stainless steel fork
& knife for splitting pictures of a body.
Folds & creases in zoom, gorges—the eyeball,
scrupulous, dilated pupils: Earth from space, cocooned
in the milk of gods—a lukewarm swab to rim the eyes,
crusty rheum scooped out; the thankless trees,
become themselves, their own nomenclature.
 
Wind-woke-humming, haywire machinery
: I woke sleeping last night, unbuttoning a floor
of cotton, descended; perhaps I wanted…
to unzip my bed & shimmy in metaphorically.
I woke proper, switched on the lamp to find
my bed sheets sprawled across the room
me, shaken from the struggle in my dream,
from the substrata leaking out before dawn.
 
Sun worship even as the arid stiffening
of soil prevents crow & magpie.
This chip on our shoulder, filled for now
with clods of animal fat—crud of the land,
the faeces of subjugated cattle plugging holes
in us even as it shreds holes in the sky, land, water.
Innocence, brand panic—everything
you thought pure, spoiled ganglion.
 
A dog, elegant, long limbed cross-bred
Jack of Spades, tail buoying it hind, to lick
our wounds sterile—why else would man
make best pals of them? Everything to our advantage…
Sensitivity isn’t…sensible—it can kill!
You wind up with a heart in your esophagus
gasping for explanations to yourself; brain
weeping through the left hand’s arthritic fingers;
 
kidneys squeezed in the right for stress relief,
dreaming your body oiled & bound, arranged
like half a withered oak in a granite sarcophagus.
Who doesn’t want to break linearity & learn
what will happen one moment, the next
& even further; to plot life with stiff upper lips
like a rudder to pilot tides pleached with moonlight
only to wish for a U-turn after hindsight?
 
Orpheus, past cozying to his discriminate self,
wanted nothing more than to be a bachelor
: couldn’t he feel Eurydice’s soft flesh
pressed to the tips of his fingers, his palm?
Why could he not trust touch, hear
her footsteps, the patterned eagerness
to leave Hades in her heaving breaths
—O the exaggerated drama of farewell?
 
The unflattering rigors of happiness
—the banality, pursuit all compensated
at a later date by someone else, out of sight
& mind, nameless : timeless—otherness without
much to lose, we assume all things but time.
The following night a wind barged in & blew
the starred curtains flat against the ceiling;
I rummaged folds for buttons, a zip
 
but nothing…
 
 
 

Morning on & on

Been rummaging—again—through the poems I wrote on my return to England. Found this one, with a refrain, a repetition, & repetition is very much puncturing the days without mercy.

I don’t recall the exact details of my disposition at the time of writing this. Poems tend to fall into a constellation of activity, a particularly industrious period, with poems of variable timbre & matter emerging in succession, like a beaded lineage of lotus flowers from a dirty pond.

I detect sadness. I was looking for work, full of guilt, worry, in need of friendships. I haven’t changed much, I am still needy for the company of others. I’ve never been like this, maybe I am getting old & want ease.

I find despite my faffing with poems, they tend to coagulate together into a sort of opaque, abstract narrative held in a hug of time all their own—imbricate with each other—in which I was & never will be again. They are suspended frame by frame attachments to a gossamer moment, unaware of its origins once it ventures into peripheries. We must think of our poems as agentic, eventually. I give my poems ‘response-ability’ to borrow Donna J. Haraway’s term. They affect, they are effected. There is nothing in this world that is not processual. No thing in its most stunning inertia is ever perfectly still. Active is everything. This is not New Age thinking, this is onto-ecological thinking. Nothing pauses, ever. It is impossible. A poem never stops moving, even in a dark cupboard in a world where language is lost. Poems are themselves in the instant we deracinate them from their unfinished status plonking them into the paths of readers, for we must have readers. Even the dust will read them in its dusty way, as will the sunlight, time itself, the empty air, the insects that crawl their inky facades, the surveillance capitalist’s machine intelligence.  


Morning on & on
 
If day, each day, & dawdling through hour on hour
should never pass beyond morning,
what effect on the business of the lungs,
the circadian pulse, light to never expand nor contract, 
umber light, oaten love;
the mercurial wetness of eye & lawn
 
morning on & on?
 
The will of morning-sense must change.
To learn to live in a mode of dew
would be to never say farewell to fluency,
or throb;—to ignore the candid pale
of punishing decline, in the occasion come of breathing
this circular oxygen, until we cannot
 
—morning on & on.
 
The palinode on its way, where crucial fictions
do handstands, draining their pockets of pearls & dew.
Magpie & squirrel, arrived to cozen them,
haemoglobin rushing into their head & hands;
fazed by turning, they’re snaffled
of dewy pearls from under their noses
 
: morning on & on.